Monday, June 10, 2013

INVASION USA (1985) novelized!

I have enjoyed reading film novelizations since I was a wee lad. I have great memories of reading the STAR WARS and ALIEN novelizations long before I got to see the films and I've always thought that having those stories already present in my head when I sat down for my first viewing added to the experience. Usually though I have ended up reading the novelization well after seeing the film the book was based upon. There are a number of reasons for doing this. In my opinion the best reason is to see what changes were made to the finished film that stayed in the novel. These can be things as small as extra snatches of dialog or as big as entire sequences that didn't get filmed for various reasons. I always find the books interesting and quick reads even if they offer little in the way of top level writing or really anything more than simple, effective prose. But simple and effective prose is all these books require so when I read one of them I know what to expect.

Until now the only unifying trait tying all the novelizations I have read together would be that I actually liked the film being transmogrified into a book. That might seem like a given but I have finally broken that streak by reading a book based on a film I consider very, very bad. Indeed, I find INVASION USA (1984) so bad I entered it into our annual Turkey Night of Bad Cinema recently to introduce others to its incredible ridiculousness. So, why read the novelization of a terrible 80s action film starring renowned plank of wood Chuck Norris?  This blog post by Joe Kenney over on GloriousTrash made it necessary.

Reading about the real identity of author Jason Frost and the fact that the book was waaaayyyy better than the movie made this a must find. Lucky for me, my beloved girlfriend took note of my online babble about this twenty-eight year old bit of Men's Adventure Trash and gifted me with a yellowing copy for my birthday. Ain't love grand?

So, now that I've read INVASION USA what do I think? Its a blast! Exactly as Mr. Kenney noted this version of the story actually makes sense. In the film Norris' blank-eyed hero Hunter seems to just repeatedly, magically appear where ever villain Rostov's terrorists are causing havoc. Hunter then mows the bad guys down with his mini-submachine guns and then fades back into the night. Always the night. It is this repeated pattern of superhuman ability to locate the bad guys followed by near comic slaughter that makes the film so damned funny. But in the novel we see that Hunter is smartly tracking reporters that are being tipped off by the terrorists to increase the amount of news coverage each event receives. See how easy that was to fix? Why is that not in the movie?

In the film Rostov's plan to destabilize the United States seems poorly thought out and pathetically executed but in the novel things are much more interesting. We're told that several teams of terrorists have been sent to major cities to insight race and ethnic riots around the country. This is much more impressive than a group of two dozen morons running around Miami shopping malls shooting people randomly at Christmas time. This makes each action scene have some weight as does the author's repeated detailing of some of the civilian victims of the various attacks. Its often harsh to learn just enough about a couple of characters to sympathize with them only to then have them cruelly gunned down by the marauding terrorists.

Also, the antagonism between Hunter and Rostov is explained very well with a nightmare flashback detailing the opportunity Hunter had to kill the dastardly fellow several years before. This information makes Hunter's repeated use of the phrase 'time to die' actually mean something in the narrative. It also makes Rostov's blind hatred for Hunter clear and understandable which is far beyond what the film seems capable of.

Of course, the real question is if this material was in the original script and then discarded in the shooting or editing of the finished product? Or was all the novel's solid meat on the film's sagging bones crafted out of the mind of 'Jason Frost'? We may never know without an interview with Raymond Obstfeld focused on his adventure fiction work in the 1980s but I would love to find out. Regardless, it has been quite a surprise to discover that someone could (or would bother to) turn a crappy 80s action Turkey into an exciting, well done Men's Adventure story on the printed page. Maybe when I next get the urge to read an Executioner or Destroyer novel in the future I could instead locate the novelization of RAMBO III and hope for the best. Or not.


Anonymous said...

Sadly, David Morrell's novelization of RAMBO III takes itself just bit too seriously to be enjoyed in the same vein as Obstfeld's superior INVASION USA adaptation. For all his prowess as an action/suspense writer, Morrell spends an inordinate amount of time in the RAMBO III tome focusing on Rambo's new found Zen Buddhist beliefs and pondering the history of Afghanistan (a country most Americans knew nothing about in those days). As dumb as the film is, it's preferable to the novel if you want trashy macho action. Unlike INVASION USA, which is eminently forgettable onscreen but magnificent in print.

Rod Barnett said...

Wow! Thanks for the info about the RAMBO III novel- I was actually considering picking it up a few weeks ago when I spotted it on a shelf of used books but something pushed me away....maybe luck or fate or Zen Buddhist created waves of boredom?